Cover Photo: Carmen Villegas Apartments. Image courtesy of Magnusson Architecture and Planning

The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) is thrilled to announce the launch of our newest affordable housing cohort, with seven affordable housing projects pursuing the Living Building Challenge, Core Green Building, and Zero Carbon certifications! These projects will join a supportive peer engagement network of other ILFI Affordable Housing cohort members receiving dedicated access to additional information, resources, technical assistance, and opportunities for peer-to-peer exchange of knowledge around achieving the world’s most ambitious green building standards.

ILFI’s Affordable Housing Program is premised on the belief that everyone deserves to live in healthy, resilient, and regenerative buildings. Over the last decade, ILFI has demonstrated this commitment by providing dedicated support to affordable housing projects and creating a hub where project teams can support each other, celebrate successes, build on lessons learned, and inform the development of valuable resources such as the Living Building Challenge Framework for Affordable Housing, the Materials List for Affordable Housing, and the Best Practices Guide for Red List Free Affordable Housing

The central goal of the Program is to demonstrate that Living Affordable Housing is possible. With the launch of this newest cohort, there are now 62 affordable housing projects in 28 states pursuing certification under ILFI’s programs. ILFI strives to build on the innovative work of these projects to scale impact and cultivate success for future project teams. Through the Affordable Housing Program, ILFI creates resources and empowers advocates so that each project moves the entire affordable housing sector further towards a future that is socially just, culturally rich, and ecologically restorative. 

Through June 2026, the new cohort will meet quarterly to dive into specific topics such as healthy materials, carbon, and water, and participate in office hours with our team of project coaches to check in on their progress, discuss barriers, and collaborate on solutions. In addition to this, project teams will have access to mentorship opportunities with members of previous affordable housing cohorts who have generously agreed to share their knowledge and experience in pursuing ILFI programs. 

These seven new projects represent a diverse range of locations, scales, and building types. With the launch of this cohort, ILFI’s Affordable Housing Program includes projects in four new states and provinces – Hawaii, Iowa, Connecticut, and British Columbia. It also includes the Program’s first project in New York City,  its tallest one to date at 28 stories. In contrast, the smallest project in the cohort is a 1,000 square foot prototype home designed to be a replicable model for sustainably rebuilding a displaced island community.

The projects are being created by five developers, a government housing agency, and a religious organization, all of whom are committed to creating place-based, regenerative solutions for addressing the needs of their communities. In addition to providing housing for cost-burdened residents, several of the projects will also provide spaces dedicated to community services such as wrap-around support and healthcare facilities, community gathering spaces, and even an innovative food hall aimed at promoting local culture and expanding economic opportunities in its neighborhood.

Most of the projects in the cohort are pursuing Living Building or Core Green Building certification, citing the alignment of these holistic standards with the broad vision of sustainability embodied in their project goals. Notably, two projects have registered for Zero Carbon certification, signaling the growing importance of embodied carbon for affordable housing developers. Project teams are exploring a number of different carbon reduction strategies, such as using low-carbon structural materials like mass timber, prefabrication, and adaptive reuse.

Project Highlights

Rebuilding Lahaina with Living Buildings 

Regen Maui has set out to develop the first Living Building Challenge certified affordable home in Hawaii, to be replicated in rebuilding efforts for Lahaina, a town recovering from a devastating fire that destroyed over 2,000 homes in 2023. The project team envisions Living Buildings as a symbol of healing: through a participatory design process, the team intends to establish a shared sense of ownership as stakeholders come together to create a vision for rebuilding their community. In a state with some of the highest housing and utility costs in the nation, rebuilding with resilient, sustainable homes that harness the renewable power of the sun and the healing power of nature through biophilic design will lead the way to a regenerative future for Maui.

The design team is led by Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, who has participated in ILFI’s Affordable Housing Program previously through their work with Hazelwood Community Land Trust, an affordable housing project in Pittsburgh, PA that is currently in construction and on track to achieve Core certification. As in the Hazelwood project, the team is also exploring prefabrication in Lahaina and hopes to lay the groundwork for a future manufacturing facility to build capacity for local builders and designers rooted in Hawaii.

Chilliwack Housing Project

Chilliwack Housing Project. Image courtesy of StudioHuB Architects

The Chilliwack Housing Project in British Columbia, Canada will include 40 units of supportive housing for vulnerable populations and 20 units of second-stage (or transitional) housing for women at risk of domestic violence. Developed by BC Housing, working with StudioHuB Architects and the Ann Davis Transition Society, the project will provide spaces for in-house support services and incorporate culturally sensitive, trauma-informed design with a strong emphasis on Ecology of Place. Located in a community with a large indigenous population, the design team has engaged with local indigenous groups and elders to collaboratively develop a facade design inspired by Stό:lō weavings that reflect the ‘wrap-around’ support offered to the building’s residents.

The project is currently targeting Core Green Building certification. 

“The form of the proposal is based around the symbol of a woman and child being wrapped in a protective, loving blanket. At the center of the building is an open-air courtyard, symbolizing a sheltering womb, where residents are able to connect to nature and are given a chance to grow and rebuild in a place of love, understanding, and wisdom.”

-Sarah Bjornson, studioHuB Architects

Carmen Villegas Apartments 

Carmen Villegas Apartments. Image courtesy of Magnusson Architecture and Planning

Named after a prominent local activist, the Carmen Villegas Apartments (CVA) is a 28-story, 211-unit senior housing development that will offer affordable studio and 1-bedroom units in East Harlem, New York City. With the goal of creating a “high-profile testament to the vibrancy of the neighborhood, and an enduring space of support for those who have spurred the area’s vitality for so long,” the building will also contain ground-floor retail spaces and community facilities for LGBTQ+ seniors in East Harlem. Led by Magnusson Architecture and Planning and developed as a joint venture between the Ascendant Neighborhood Development Association, Urban Builders Collaborative, and Xylem Projects, CVA is targeting Zero Carbon certification while also integrating other LBC-inspired strategies. This high-density project is an excellent opportunity to apply Living Building Challenge principles at scale, with healthy materials and a healthy indoor environment of particular importance given the building’s senior population.

Saint Mark’s Affordable Housing 

The Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral campus. Image courtesy of Atelier Jones

Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral is collaborating with Atelier Jones to develop a 115,000 square foot multi-generational affordable housing community on its centrally-located campus in Seattle, Washington. The project is a testament to the religious organization’s commitment to both social equity and environmental stewardship, aligning well with its current initiatives to support the unhoused and its goal to have a carbon-neutral campus by 2030. While the Core Green Building certification best reflects the project team’s holistic approach to sustainability, they are also particularly interested in reducing embodied carbon. In addition to leveraging Atelier Jones’ many years of experience in advancing the adoption of mass timber in the US, the team is also investigating the feasibility of adaptive reuse for the historic St. Nicholas School building on the project site as a potentially significant carbon reduction strategy.

Star Lofts 

Star Lofts is a 20-unit mixed-use development offering affordable rental apartments for households making between 30% and 80% of the area median income in Des Moines, Iowa. Led by Cutler Development, it will include commercial spaces on the ground floor and set aside a number of units for vulnerable populations who will have access to supportive services provided by operations partner Anawin Housing. The project is halfway through construction as of March 2024 and is anticipated to be the first Zero Carbon certified building in Iowa, with a 28% reduction in embodied carbon. 

Townhall Apartments and Food Hall

Also located in Des Moines, the Townhall Apartments and Food Hall is being developed by Ntontan Real Estate and Newbury Living to help activate and showcase the vibrancy of the River Bend Neighborhood, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Iowa. The 33-unit, 30,000 square foot building will feature an innovative food hall and community gathering space that will foster neighborhood cohesion, celebrate local culinary heritage, and empower small businesses by connecting them with local consumers. The project team recently won the Iowa Finance Authority’s inaugural Housing Innovation Competition, and they are committed to scaling their impact by pursuing Core certification.

Church Street Commons 

The Church Street Commons is a 52-unit mixed-income development that aims to address the lack of affordable, multi-family housing in the rural community of Hebron, Connecticut. The project is being developed by the Commons Community Development Corporation, with Dorgan Architecture and Planning leading the design team. Through a long-term lease of a portion of a 33-acre church campus in downtown Hebron, the project will include a combination of new construction and the adaptive reuse of an existing historic building on the property. The Church Street Commons project team is currently pursuing Zero Energy certification.

You can read more about ILFI’s Affordable Housing Program and the other projects we support on our website

Inspired by these stories and want to join them? ILFI still has space for a few projects in the 2023-2026 Affordable Housing Cohort! For more information, please reach out to  

Written By

Lea Celestial

As the Affordable Housing + Equity Manager, Lea works with the Critical Buildings Team to support ILFI’s Affordable Housing Program through stakeholder engagement, resource creation, research, and education. Lea’s commitment to creating a regenerative built environment is deeply informed by her background as an architect from the Philippines. She was first introduced to sustainable design through her work with a Manila-based non-profit dedicated to advancing modern bamboo construction systems as a low-carbon alternative for the country’s affordable housing sector. Prior to joining ILFI, Lea spent two years consulting on Passive House projects and designing sustainable affordable housing in the Pacific Northwest.